Mom Can Move
In a recent order issued in the Court of Common Pleas of Monroe County in the case of Song v. Valderrama, Judge Stephen Higgins discussed the standards and factors that must be applied in a case where mother was looking to relocate with her 5-year-old child from Pennsylvania to Florida. In this case, the relocation was granted. Both the relocation and the custody factors along with a review of the findings of each of the factors is provided below.
In a relocation case, the party wishing to relocate has the burden of proving that the relocation is in the best interest of the child. In addition, “each party has the burden of establishing the integrity of that party’s motives in either seeking the relocation or seeking to prevent the relocation.”
23 Pa.C.S.A. 5337(h) provides the 10 relocation factors that a court must consider in a relocation case:
1).The nature, quality, extent of involvement and duration of he child’s relationship with the party proposing to relocate and with the nonrelocating party, siblings and other significant persons in the child’s life. The court weighed this factor slightly in favor of Mother. The child has no siblings. Mother has been the primary caregiver for the child since he was born. She proposed a schedule where Father could enjoy holidays and summer vacations, as well as unlimited time with him in Florida. She also testified that she co-parents with Father very well. Father raised concerns over Mother’s abuse of cocaine and that she would have less support in Florida. According to the court, Father would not be in a position to enjoy primary physical custody of the child.
2).The age, developmental stage, needs of the child and the likely impact the relocation will have on the child’s physical, educational and emotional development, taking into consideration any special needs of the child. This factor was found to be neutral.
3). The feasibility of preserving the relationship between the nonrelocating party and the child through suitable custody arrangements, considering the logistics and financial circumstances of the parties. This factor was weighted in favor of Father. The relocation would be difficult. Mother testified that Father saw the child only once in a six week period but hat Father has alternating weekends with the child. The relocation would cause a financial hardship for Father and he would not be able to maintain the current custody agreement.
4).The child’s preference, taking into consideration the age and maturity of the child. The court did not interview the child and thus found that this factor did not favor either party.
5).Whether there is an established pattern of conduct of either party to promote or thwart the relationship of the child and the other party.This factor did not favor either party because the court found that there was no evidence suggesting that either party has attempted to thwart the relationship of the child with either party.
6).Whether the relocation will enhance the general quality of life for the party seeking the relocation, including, but no limited to, financial or emotional benefit for educational opportunity. The factor was found in favor of mother in that it would generally enhance Mother’s financial opportunities and quality of life. She testified to a financial benefit by obtaining a property management position in Orlando. Her brother and his wife lived there and could assist in child care. She also testified to other ties (a cousin and friend) who lived nearby including Father’s grandmother and step-father.
7). Whether the relocation will enhance the general quality of life for the child, including, but not limited to, financial or emotional benefit or educational opportunity. This factor was found to be in favor of Mother. She presented a letter from the doctor that indicates that he has to stay indoors in the winter due to acute asthma attacks. In Florida, he would be allowed to play outdoors. Mother found a school that would be a good fit for him. Although she did not offer any additional information, the court found that the child’s general quality fo life would improve.
8). The reasons and motivation of each party for seeking or opposing the relocation.The court believed that Mother’s reasons for seeking to relocate where genuine and that Father’s reasons for opposing the relocation were sincere.
9). The present and past abuse committed by a party or member of the party’s household and whether there is a continued risk of harm to the child or an abused party. Under this factor, the court considered Father’s concerns over Mother’s past abuse of cocaine. She said she is no longer using though she has struggled with addiction. The court notes that Father did not seek to modify the custody for the child’s well-being and no was there evidence of present abuse by Mother or any risk of harm to the child. This factor was found in favor of Father.
10). Any other factor affecting the best interest of the child. The court believes that both parents are good parents. The decision notes that Mother has been financially providing for the child and that is Father has not been providing child support and is in contempt of his financial obligations. Mother also provided that the relocation would help with the child’s asthma and health issues. The support system and family members who reside near the proposed relocation would benefit mom. After considering these factors, the court found that Mother met her burden and then turned to the custody factors.
In addition to the relocation factors, the court also considered the 16 Custody Factors:
1).Which parent is more likely to encourage and permit frequent and continuing contact for the child with the other parent?In this case, the Court favored the Mother. The Mother presented evidence that Father only saw the child one time in six months. The Mother indicated that the child needed his Father. Court felt that the Mother would be more likely to encourage contact.
2). Was there present or past abuse or a continued risk of harm to the child? In this case, there was no evidence of abuse making this factor irrelevant.
3). Parental duties performed by each party on behalf of the child. In this case, the Mother had provided the majority of the child’s care since birth.
4). Need for stability and continuity of child’s education, family life and community life. Again, this factor was favored to the Mother. The Father in this case had not contributed to the child’s support.
5). Availability of extended family. This factor was awarded to the Father in this case. Most of the extended family for both Mother and Father were in Pennsylvania. However, Mother did have family in Florida.
6). Child’s sibling relationships.In this case, there were no siblings, making this factor irrelevant.
7). Well-reasoned preference of child, based upon child’s maturity and judgment. In this case, the child was 5 years old and not interviewed by the Court, making this factor irrelevant.
8). Attempts of parents to turn child against each other, except in cases of domestic violence where reasonable safety measures are necessary.The Court was neutral in this case as it did not appear that either parent had attempted to turn the child on the other parent.
9). Which parent is more likely to maintain a loving, stable, consistent, and nurturing relationship with the child adequate for child’s emotional needs?The Court again favored the Mother. The Father’s time with child was inconsistent; including a six month period of time that he only saw child one time.
10).Which parent is more likely to attend to daily physical, emotional, developmental, educational and special needs?The Court believed that both parents would attend to the needs of the child in this case. Therefore the Court was neutral on this factor.
11). Proximity of residences of parties.The Court favored the Father in this factor as all of the extended family lived within Monroe County. The Mother was asking to move with the child to Florida.
12).Availability to care for child or make child care arrangements. The Court was neutral on this factor as both parties have family close in Pennsylvania and Mother stated that she has family in Florida close to where she wanted to move to.
13).Level of conflict and willingness of parties to cooperate with one another.The Court was neutral on this factor as it appeared that the parents had good communications.
14).History of drug or alcohol abuse.The Court was neutral on this factor. The Father suggested that the Mother had a previous drug habit, but she claimed that was no longer an issue. The Court noted that Father did not present any evidence to the contrary. Furthermore, the Father did not seek sole custody based on the Mother's alleged drug issues.
15).Mental and physical condition of part or other members of household.The Court was neutral on this factor.
16).Other relevant factors. The Mother was the primary care giver. Both parents co-parent very well. Both parents love and nurture child.
The most important factor to consider is what is in the best interest of the child. In this situation, the Court held that the parents would continue with shared legal custody and shared physical custody, with the Mother being the primary custodial parent. The Father would have physical custody that worked with the child’s school calendar. The Mother had been the child’s primary parent since his birth. She was the parent who took him to his healthcare appointments. The Father had not been paying any child support, so the Mother had been solely providing for the child’s financial support.
The Court further held that since the Mother wanted to make the move that she had to pay for travel arrangements for time for the Father to see the child for Christmas Break 2019 and Spring Break 2020. Beginning in summer vacation 2020, the parents would share transportation expenses equally. Furthermore, the Court ordered that the parents would have telephone access to the child that was reasonable.
What does this mean for you?
If you find yourself in the situation where a parent is considering a move, you will need assistance in presenting evidence to satisfy the factors as outlined by the Court. Call Kinchloe Law at 215-564-1580 so that we can assist you in the assessment of your current situation and to discuss your options.